Friday, November 21, 2008

G.R. Grove; "Flight of the Hawk"

The tale of Gwernin the bard continues on in this next installment of the Storyteller series. Flight of the Hawk, a historical fiction book set in medieval Wales, brings back a cast of familiar faces, including the intrepid hero and Welsh bard, Gwernin. I likened the first book to the Canterbury Tales, and I will reiterate it for this one. Unlike the High School required reading, however, this is actually something you would enjoy.

Gwernin continues his travels through 6th century Wales, however in this installment, the political atmosphere is turning sour and there is the rumour of war simmering over the countryside. Gwernin and his companion and fellow-bard Neirin are sent to the northern Wales to discover what they can about the unrest. But as expected, that particular task becomes secondary against the myriad adventures they encounter along the way. And those adventures are the best bits.

Flight of the Hawk takes up very well where the first book left off--possibly even better; not just in the story, but in its quality of writing, its engaging nature and cohesiveness of the story. The style is delightful. As with storyteller, the story stands well on its own, but what sells this book best is the voice in which it is told--in the stories told within the story. There is a musical, lyrical quality to it, but it is not by any means a labour to read. You'll fly through this book and close it wishing for more. As I reread my prior review of "Storyteller", I realize how similar my views are on this new book nearly a full year after I reviewed the first. How's that for consistency?

What I feel obligated to point out, is that this author respects her readers. It is obvious by the professional appearance of the book itself, the simple but elegant cover design, the well-edited, well thought out content within. This is a quality book and I recommend it to any and all who enjoy a good medieval backdrop, and those who appreciate well-researched books that almost make you feel as if you're there. I must also confess to you that I tore through this book. I read it in 'gulps'. I have had it in my possession for a long time, and I let life get in the way, and I spent last night and a good part of today finishing it because I promised the author. I was able to 'gulp' it up without a problem.

The Storyteller books are a unique type of book. They are not typical by any means in their presentation, they are artful. You need to keep that in mind when you pick it up.

I give this book 5 medallions.

Flight of the Hawk
Author: GR Grove
Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: (September 19, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1430328517

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Michael J Sullivan; The Crown Conspiracy

I will admit, that over the last few years I have grown away from the fantasy genre, so this book sat in my "to be read" pile a bit longer than it should have. However once I opened it up, I was thrilled with the story. What we have here is a very well thought out tale of intrigue... regicide, battles over the throne, conspiracy, and two thieves thrown into the mix keep the story line moving at a rapid pace.

A short summary: To expert thieves are commissioned to steal something from the castle, little do they know that they are to take the fall for the murder of the king. When faced with the executioner's block, they are approached by an unlikely person to commit another crime which will possibly save their lives and possibly the kingdom. I hate to tell you any more than that lest the story be spoiled. The author has gone to such great care to weave this tale with just the right amount of suspense as to keep the reader glued to the book. As far as the fantasy aspect of this novel, I was thrilled that true fantasy was very rarely employed. Sure there is a bit of magic, and an elf or two, but they are simply background to an excellent tale about a kingdom in trouble that seeks help from the unlikeliest of its subjects.

The characters are almost instantly loveable, they are all stereotypes but I wouldn't really hold that against the author. Sometimes a good stereotype is what a book needs. We have the benevolent thieves, the whore with the heart of gold, the reluctant prince, the evil nobleman... so much of this book will be very familiar to the reader, but for some reason this really didn't bother me. I did feel that there were are few areas which could have used a little more umph, or a bit more follow through, however I feel that this is probably the first of at least 3 novels following our new king and his thieving friends. If that is the case, then there is still plenty of time to wrap up these dangling ends.

Would I read these follow up novels? It is highly likely. This is by far one of the most well written independent novels I have had the pleasure of reading. I highly recommend it to both lovers of fantasy, and also those who like stories along the lines of the King Arthur legends, and the tales of the Green Knight.

As far as age appropriateness, there is violence however it is not overly descriptive, there are prostitutes but their job is never detailed and then there are the questionable jobs of our heroes. I would say that this is probably readable by the 12 and up crew, however I would read it first to determine if it would be okay for your specific 12 year old. I would guess that by 15-16 they would be capable of fully enjoying the intrigue that is entailed. Again I highly recommend this book.

5 of 5 medallions

The Crown Conspiracy
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: Aspirations Media Inc (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0980003431

Additional notation from reviewer Stephanie J: The cover art is exceptionally well done.

Kurt L. Kamm; One Foot In The Black

I'll be honest; I wasn't exactly excited to read a book about Firefighting in the California wilderness... I'm not firefighter material, and I'm a strictly East Coast resident... though when I lived in FL it seemed liked I-95 burned from Jax to Orlando every year, and that every year it was the "Worst fire in Florida History."

Short Summary: At the tender age of 19 our young man, Kowalski travels from Saginaw, Michigan out to Auburn, California to learn to be a firefighter. Kowalski comes from a troubled home, and brings more mental baggage with him than physical baggage. Once he arrives in California he trains as a wild-lands firefighter, learns what it is to become part of a brotherhood, and deals with the emotional pains of his past.

This book is set up in alternating chapters, one from the present where
Kowalski is learning to be a firefighter, followed by one from his traumatic childhood. I'm not entirely sure that this was the most effective way to get the story across... and the biggest problem I had with this book is that I'm not sure what story the author was trying to tell. He did an excellent job with the technical aspect of training camp, firefighting, and the frat-like camaraderie of the firefighters. Kamm also did an excellent job with making the reader despise the boy's home life, particularly his father. There were other areas however, that felt very weak to me, and a chapter or two that were unnecessary in my mind.

For example, the character of TB is supposed to be a surrogate father figure to our lead, however as readers, this relationship is never fully shown or developed. I felt that for the effect of the relationship on the book, more time should have been spent on their relationship than some of the training they were going through. I also felt that the hotel scene, as well as much of the bus ride could have been cut and replaced with more relationship building chapters. Our lead character is a hothead, and it's easy to see why he would be... but as a reader, his choices in dealing with others make him difficult to connect with. We read dialogue, and we see them train to be firefighters, but there are no truly defined relationships in the book other than proximity.

This is by no means a bad book... where it is strong, it is very strong. If the weaker portions could be brought up to the rest of the book, then this could probably land on Oprah's book club. For Firefighters or those that love firefighting in general, this is a must read already, because that is the true strength of this book.

Parent Rating: Not for the kiddies - sex, domestic violence, some profanity, forest fire victims. Probably okay for 15 and up.

I give it 4 of 5 medallions

One Foot in the Black
Author: Kurt Kamm
Paperback: 261 pages
Publisher: (December 18, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143570626